Notes from the Wigwam: Tribe shows improvement
Kluber, pitching staff impress as Tribe goes 4-2 during week
Slowly but surely, it appears as if the Cleveland Indians may be coming around.
The Tribe went 4-2 during this past week and won two series against both the Texas Rangers and the Washington Nationals. While their record of 34-34 is still far from great, the Tribe is still just 4 ½ games behind the Detroit Tigers for first place in the American League Central.
The key for the Indians this past week was pitching as the Tribe held the opposition to three or less runs in five of the six games that they played.
This next week will be all about divisional play though for the Indians as the Tribe will face both the Kansas City Royals and Minnesota Twins in three-game series. They always say the key to winning a divisional title is taking care of your divisional games, and the Indians will look to do just that this week.
However, before we move on to next week though, let's just take one more look at the week that was for the Indians...
June 10 at Texas, L 6-3 (WP: Ross, LP: Kazmir)
June 11 at Texas, W 5-2 (WP: Kluber, LP: Holland)
June 12 at Texas, W 5-2 (WP: Jimenez, LP: Tepesch)
June 14 vs. Washington, W 2-1 (WP: Smith, LP: Abad)
June 15 vs. Washington, L 7-6 (WP: Storen, LP: Pestano)
June 16 vs. Washington, W 2-0 (WP: Kluber, LP: Strasburg)
Player of the Week
Corey Kluber — Starting pitcher
2 GS, 2-0, 16 IP, 1 R/ER, 3 BB, 11 K
Was there any doubt on this one? With every start, it seems more and more likely that the Indians really could have something special in Kluber. Just take a moment to think about what Kluber gave the Indians in two starts during this past week. He went out there and not only ate up innings, but he was also particularly dominant at times as well. There were a handful of occasions where Kluber got into jams, especially in Sunday's game. However, he buckled done on each occasion and came out of each jam unscathed. Part of the reason that Kluber is able to maneuver through jams so well is the fact that he strikes out so many batters; Kluber is punching out just over nine batters per nine innings. Prior to the season, it was thought that Kluber might be able to eat up some innings and be a back-of-the-rotation starter. However, the scary thing is that Kluber has pitched like a front-of-the-rotationstarter on several occasions this year. There's no telling whether it will last, but the bottom line is that the Indians have to ride his hot arm while they can.
Minor League Player of the Week
Carlos Moncrief — Right fielder, Akron Aeros
5 G, 9-for-21, 5 R, 2 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 2 BB, 3 K
For back-to-back weeks, Moncrief is recognized in this spot. The toolsy outfielder continued his tear this past week, and he's now hit in 15 straight games, and his line is all the way up to .294/.362/.462. Moncrief is still far from perfect, and his lefty-righty splits illustrate that (.215 vs. lefties, .324 vs. righties). However, he can play all three outfield positions, has some decent power and speed, and it suddenly appears as if everything may now be coming together for the 24-year-old. For years, the Tribe has struggled to produce an impact outfielder, and it's a stretch to go ahead and apply that label to Moncrief, but he's certainly an intriguing player to follow. It would be nice to be able to see him display his skills in Cleveland sometime.
A rough week
Scott Kazmir — Starting pitcher
2 GS, 0-1, 8.2 IP, 9 R/ER, 4 HR, 6 BB, 7 K.
While Kazmir is still an enticing pitcher because of his stuff, and, well, the fact that he is left-handed, it may be time to pull the plug on him as a starter. Kazmir had arguably his worst start as an Indian Saturday against the Nationals as he gave up three home runs, and he was unable to even make it through three innings of work. He still is showing off some pretty good stuff, and he's also still striking out exactly nine batters per inning, but he has not had the same level of success that he enjoyed earlier this season. It's too early to replace him from the rotation, but what happens when Zach McAllister is once again healthy? Someone from the rotation will have to go, and it seems as if the most likely candidate could end up being Kazmir. Of course, Kazmir could still very much have value to this team. We know that left-handed relief has been a persistent issue for the Indians since the season began, and this could perhaps be a role where Kazmir excels. It does appear as if he's now being overexposed as a starter, so the bullpen role could end up being ideal for him.
This number marks the number of straight games that Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis has now hit in. Thanks to his recent tear, Kipnis has watched his average increase all the way to .270. That's an incredible improvement from the .189 he was hitting back on May 1.
News & notes
— Let's take a moment to further consider the progression of Jason Kipnis. Just over a month ago, there was the prevailing thought that he may have to be sent back down to the minor leagues to further hone his skills, but those days are now long gone. Kipnis, who owns a .270/.342/.465 line with 14 doubles, two triples, nine home runs and 34 RBI, has been the Indians' best offensive performer over the past two weeks. He's also creating some offense when he gets on base as his 15 stolen bases leads the team. It's actually a tad unfortunate that Kipnis' surge came so late as he likely would have garnered All-Star consideration had his numbers been better in the early going. Yet, while he may not be an actual All-Star, he's definitely an All-Star for the Indians. A number of the Tribe's players have been slumping over the past few, but Kipnis has been a stable force both defensively and offensively for the team.
— Catcher Carlos Santana is another player who seems to be on his way to breaking out of his slump. The switch-hitting Santana is currently in the midst of an eight-game hit streak, and was the team's next most consistent offensive performer behind Kipnis this past week. He's no longer hitting at the absurd clip he was during the month of April and early May, but Santana seems to be settling in at around .280, which is still plenty good from a Major League catcher. The other positive sign is that Santana hit his ninth home run of the season on Saturday, which also happened to be his first home run since May 22. The power unfortunately has not been there for Santana lately as it was in the early part of the season, but let's hope that one home run is the key to helping Santana get his power swing right.
— The Indians made plenty of big acquisitions this past offseason, but perhaps the most underrated move was the acquisition of backup shortstop Mike Aviles. Aviles has filled in admirably since Asdrubal Cabrera went on the disabled list as the right-handed hitting Aviles has a .272/.293/.408 line with eight doubles, four home runs and 20 RBI. He's not without his flaws and does seem to struggle with taking a walk, but he's certainly a more-than-adequate backup. Aviles had a rough outing on Saturday though as he had two errors while playing the shortstop position. Of course, the errors really should not cause too much concern though as they were actually the first two errors that Aviles has had while playing shortstop this season. In other words, chalk the errors up to what they are — a bad night in the field for Aviles.
— While much has been said of Nick Swisher's struggles at the plate as of late, left fielder Michael Brantley has also struggled quite a bit at the plate. Brantley did manage to collect five hits during this past week, but his average is now all the way down to .280, which is the lowest it's been since April 28. Brantley's struggles have been concerning simply for the fact that he's normally such a stabilizing force for the Indians. Even when other players go into slumps, it seems as if Brantley is the one constant that the Indians can always rely on. After hitting .289 last season, many fans expected Brantley to take the next step in his development and become a .300 hitter this season. There's still plenty of time for Brantley to do that, but he definitely has dug himself into a little hole right now. The nice thing with Brantley though is that even when is not hitting, he's still putting up professional at-bats. The left-handed hitting outfielder remains one of the most patient hitters on the team, and he's struck out only 30 times this season while drawing 19 walks.
— The Indians are starting to make some progress in the area of attendance. They have recently passed both the Miami Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays in attendance as the Indians currently rank 30th in the Major Leagues with an average of 18,149. That number is better than what it's been, but there's still plenty of room for improvement.
— Chris Perez made a rehab appearance with the Lake County Captains on Sunday and struck out one batter while allowing two hits across a scoreless inning of work. Like Perez or not, the Indians are a much better team when he's healthy.
— For Carlos Carrasco, the Indians have to hope that the third time's the charm. Carrasco makes his third Major League start of the season tonight against the Royals. Carrasco has struggled in his previous two outings, and he currently has a 15.26 ERA in 7 2/3 innings of work. The positive thing to remember is that things can probably only get better from this point on.
Steve can be reached via email at email@example.com.